Writing on the River: Riversong

July 30-august 5, 2019 with Nancy Cook, David Grimes, Michelle McAfee


The Wrangell Mountains Center is pleased to partner with McCarthy River Tours & Outfitters to host a seven-day, six-night adventure in the fabulous Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

Together we will explore the ways wilderness can help inspire songs, stories, poems, and essays. Activities include an opening reading/performance and craft sessions in the comfort of the Wrangell Mountains Center’s facility in McCarthy, followed by three nights and four days of creative inquiry along the Kennicott, Nizina, Chitina, and Copper Rivers. Space is limited to nine student writers/ songwriters.

Participants Can Expect:

  • Craft talks

  • Structured field writing exercises

  • Campfire song circles

  • Ample opportunities to explore and enjoy the surrounding wilderness

  • Public performance from workshop staff and the opportunity for students to share written and musical work at a final participant performance

  • Feedback from groups and one-on-one conversations with instructors/practice in the arts of improvement

  • An intimate community of caring and purpose/ the pleasures of shared meals and shared commitment

Nancy Cook

Nancy Cook

Nancy Cook, Workshop Director, has led field programs for the Wrangell Mountains Center since 1991. A former fisheries biologist and National Park Service interpretive ranger, she received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Her poems and prose appear in the Riverteeth Journal of Nonfiction Narrative, Mountain Gazette, Hipfish, Xtra Tuff, Ice Box, and the Seal Press anthology Going Alone: Women's Adventures in the Wild. She has taught writing at Prince William Sound Community College, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and currently serves on the full time faculty at Clatsop Community College in Astoria, Oregon, home of the annual Fisher Poets Gathering. The mother of one daughter, she continues to spend summers at her cabin in an aspen grove near McCarthy.

Michelle blue.jpg

Michelle McAfee was born in the Rocky Mountains with a healthy dose of wanderlust and a fierce love of wild.  A sense of place and adventure infuses her songwriting. She co-created the artist collective One Soul which takes music and art into prisons and composed/recorded music for independent films Mad Dog Labine, Kissed By Lightning, The Incredible 25th Year of Mitzi Bearclaw.  Michelle has released three independent albums and has shared the stage with  G Love & Special Sauce, Jewel, and The Indigo Girls. Her previous musical career as a staff songwriter for publishers in Nashville and Los Angeles (Warner-Chappell, Sony/Maypop Music, Bluewater Music) honed her writing skills and continues to impact her current work: heartfelt songs driven by sweet hooks and smart stories.

“An accidental shaman and bardic fool who has howled with wolves, run from bears and cavorted with killer whales, activist, poet, songwriter David Lynn Grimes was born in the Ozarks and grew up near the mighty Missouri River, “River of the Big Canoe.” Periodically headquartered in the Alaskan fishing village of Cordova, David has for 4 decades migrated throughout the Pacific Northwest’s coastal temperate rainforest that communicates in a great arc from Kodiak to California, from Prince William Sound and the Copper River Delta in the north to the redwoods of Monterey Bay and Big Sur in the south. A former commercial fisherman, ongoing whale researcher, and environmental activist in the wake of the 1989 Exxon oil spill, David has been a musician all his life and has three albums of songs along with published essays and poetry. Rumor holds he has floated the Copper River more times than any other living guide. His adopted Eyak name is YaxadiliSayaxinh, “The Thinker” or more literally “He who causes his mind to involuntarily roam in an indeterminate direction.” Read more about David and explore his music at: http://www.davidlynngrimes.com

David Grimes

David Grimes

Photos by Nancy Cook (left and middle) and Nathaniel Wilder (right)

Location and Venue:

This course will begin with two nights at the Wrangell Mountains Center (WMC). The WMC is a private nonprofit institute whose mission is connecting people with wildlands through art, science and education in the Wrangell Mountains. The WMC's headquarters in the Old Hardware Store are located McCarthy, Alaska, in the heart of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. From there students will travel deeper in the wilderness and raft down the Kennicott, Nizina, and Chitina Rivers to pull out in the town of Chitina, Alaska. This is a unique opportunity to experience and explore the largest national park in the U.S. Over 23% larger than Switzerland, Wrangell-St. Elias is world renowned for its wild landscapes, high peaks, massive glaciers and rivers, healthy ecosystems, and dramatic scenery as well as its unique cultural history.

McCarthy is approximately a seven hour drive from either Anchorage or Fairbanks (plus time for sightseeing, et cetera). It is possible to fly or arrange shuttles from Anchorage to McCarthy, and occasionally we can help arrange carpools for students, though we make no promises.

The Wrangell Mountains Center is pleased to contract with the locally experienced guiding company McCarthy River Tours and Outfitters to offer a safe, reasonably priced river adventure which includes all meals, safety equipment and dry suits for a maximum of nine student writers. Participants will need to bring their own tents, sleeping gear, and quality rain gear (just in case). A detailed packing list will be provided upon registration.

Heading out for a walk from the Old Hardware Store

Heading out for a walk from the Old Hardware Store

Schedule:  Participants should plan to arrive in McCarthy in time to get settled in (at the lodge, at the campground, etc) in time for a 6:00 pm kickoff dinner on July 30th. The workshop ends mid-day August 5th after getting off the river. 

Optional morning writing circles will be offered daily before breakfast and all meals will be taken together. A more detailed schedule will be provided with a welcome packet upon registration.

Cost: $1095/person if you pay by June 1st. $1195/person after June 1st. Current WMC Members receive a 5% discount (not applicable to the early bird price). The workshop price includes all meals, optional camping while in McCarthy, complete rafting services, and a shuttle from Chitina back to McCarthy. A deposit of $200 is due with registration. All fees paid, minus your deposit, will be refundable until June 1st; your deposit will be refunded only if we are able to fill your slot. The balance of fees is due 30 days before the workshop start date.

Register:  To apply for this workshop, complete the attached form.  Since space is limited, we are offering rolling admissions to assure a good mix of writers and musicians who share a passion for wilderness and creative collaboration. No wilderness nor musical experience is necessary, but applicants should embrace the potential discomforts of outdoor adventure and welcome the creative cross-pollination approach which serves as a foundation for this experimental workshop. If you prefer to register by phone or on paper please call Stef Tschappat at 907-554-4464 or send us a message here.